September 27, 2009

Journey To The End Of The Night

Yesterday evening, we were coming home with purchases from the drugstore and with my hands full, I had a package of bathroom tissue tucked securely under one arm. As we walked past a well-dressed and seemingly normal elderly woman on the street, she decided to enter our lives by muttering "Got a lot of shittin' to do?!?" One of those New York moments, but it brought to mind a dark novel recommended by a coworker named Matthew years ago - Journey to the End of the Night (Voyage au bout de la nuit) by Louis-Ferdinand Celine, first published in 1932. The book touches upon many of the reasons why people often approach their daily life with a sense of deep pessimism and a hopeless attitude. What can one say in this world? What does one do in this world? We can only do one thing...DON'T GIVE UP.  

Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, 1975 by William Gedney
from the artist's series of night photographs

Here are several excerpts from Journey to the End of the Night:

"People waste a large part of their youth in stupid mistakes. It was obvious that my darling was going to leave me, flat and soon. I hadn't found out yet that mankind consists of two very different races, the rich and the poor. It took me ... and plenty of other people ... twenty years and the war to learn to stick to my class and ask the price of things before touching them, let alone setting my heart on them."

"Poor people never, or hardly ever, asks for an explanation of all they have to put up with. They hate one another, and content themselves with that."

San Francisco, 1966 by William Gedney
from the artist's series of night photographs

"There's something sad about people going to bed. You can see they don't give a damn whether they're getting what they want out of life or not, you can see they don't even try to understand what we're here for. They just don't care. Americans or not, they sleep no matter what, they're bloated mollusks, no sensibility, no trouble with their conscience."

"The worst part is wondering how you'll find the strength tomorrow to go on doing what you did today and have been doing for much too long, where you'll find the strength for all that stupid running around, those projects that come to nothing, those attempts to escape from crushing necessity, which always founder and serve only to convince you one more time that destiny is implacable, that every night will find you down and out, crushed by the dread of more and more sordid and insecure tomorrows.

And maybe it's treacherous old age coming on, threatening the worst. Not much music left inside us for life to dance to. Our youth has gone to the ends of the earth to die in the silence of the truth. And where, I ask you, can a man escape to, when he hasn't enough madness left inside him? The truth is an endless death agony. The truth is death. You have to choose: death or lies. I've never been able to kill myself." 

Untitled, c.1972 by William Gedney
from the artist's series of night photographs

"From up high where I was, you could shout anything you liked at them. I tried. They made me sick, the whole lot of them. I hadn't the nerve to tell them so in the daytime, to their face, but up there it was safe. "Help! Help!" I shouted, just to see if it would have any effect on them. None whatsoever. Those people were pushing life and night and day in front of them. Life hides everything from people. Their own noise prevents them from hearing anything else. They couldn't care less. The bigger and taller the city, the less they care. Take it from me. I've tried. It's a waste of time."

"When, grown older, we look back on the selfishness of the people who've been mixed up with our lives, we see it undeniably for what it was, as hard as steel or platinum and a lot more durable than time itself. As long as we're young, we manage to find excuses for the stoniest indifference, the most blatant caddishness, we put them down to emotional eccentricity or some sort of romantic inexperience. But later on, when life shows us how much cunning, cruelty, and malice are required just to keep the body at ninety-eight point six, we catch on, we know the score, we begin to understand how much swinishness it takes to make up a past. Just take a close look at yourself and the degree of rottenness you've come to. There's no mystery about it, no more room for fairy tales; if you've lived this long, it's because you've squashed any poetry you had in you. Life is keeping body and soul together."

Untitled, 1960s by William Gedney
from the artist's series of night photographs

"The rich don't have to kill to eat. They "employ" people, as they call it. The rich don't do evil themselves. They pay. People do all they can to please them, and everybody's happy. They have beautiful women, the poor have ugly ones. Clothing aside, they're the product of centuries. Easy to look at, well fed, well washed. After all these years, life can boast no greater accomplishment.

It's no use trying, we slide, we skid, we fall back into the alcohol that preserves the living and the dead, we get nowhere. It's been proved. After all these centuries of watching our domestic animals coming into the world, laboring and dying before our eyes without anything more unusual ever happening to them other than taking up the same insipid fiasco where so many other animals had left off, we should have caught on. Endless waves of useless beings keep rising from deep down in the ages to die in front of our noses, and yet here we stay, hoping for something ... We're not even capable of thinking death through."

"We had reached the end of the world, that was becoming obvious. We couldn't go any further, because further on there were only dead people."

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